The Jimmy Butler Leadership Question

2019-20 Heat New Faces: Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro (R), Kezie Okpala (R), Meyers Leonard, Kendrick Nun, Chris Silva (R), Kyle Alexander (R)

2018-19 Props: Field Goal Defense, Scoring Defense. (2nd). Defensive Rating (3rd). Blocks (4th). Offensive Rebounding (7th). Total Rebounding (10th).

2018-19 Failures: Free Throw Percentage (30th). Offensive Rating (26th). Pace (23rd). Shotmaking, Free Throw Attempts (22nd). 3-Pt Percentage (21st).

2018-19 Leaders: Josh Richardson (scoring). Hassan Whiteside (rebounding). Bam Adebayo (offensive rating). Hassan Whiteside (defensive rating). Hassan Whiteside (PER).

When Pat Riley replaced Josh Richardson with Jimmy Butler it was one of those Riles moves that was brilliant on one end and uh-oh on the other. With Richardson as the top dog, the Heat were never going anywhere. Richardson is a good player but not a star. He can’t carry a team offensively and it only highlighted how particularly anemic the Heat were on offense. They didn’t have elite talent and their record was based on their defensive chops, their toughness, and how gritty they were. They do it all on hustle and want-to.

Adding Jimmy Butler changes everything. Butler is a talented scorer. He has averaged at least 20 ppg for every team he’s played for the past five years, except when he was traded to the loaded Sixers and then he averaged 19 points. He’s a solid rebounder for a wing player, he moves the ball more than you think, he’s efficient, and his 3-ball is serviceable. His defense is overrated but he does give effort and he plays hard every single possession. For the past five seasons, he’s posted a PER above 20.0. Last season, Butler made 41% of his threes in the 4th, reminding everyone what a clutch player he is.

But Butler brings his baggage too. His rough rider personality grates at times. He is known for throwing teammates and coaches under the bus because, as he puts it, he wants to win. It is the only thing he is focused on but there is a way to win that doesn’t involve putting down teammates who don’t work as hard, are beneath you, are struggling and/or refuse to give you the ball.

The Heat are Butler’s fouth team in three years. He got paid. But now, what? He has never been a leader. And yet, Butler is exactly who and what the Heat need: a pure scorer. A go-to wing performer. A pressure player. A hard nosed competitor. As tough and gritty as the Heat are, they haven’t been able to solve the star player conundrum. You can scheme until your fingers turn blue but if you don’t have the talent to consistently put the ball in the hole, trouble is coming.

The Heat can cross one weakness of their list. But can Butler make players better? That is who the Heat need as their max player. Losing Richardson means Butler doesn’t have complimentary players at his level. Dion Waiters and Goran Dragic can score but they cannot be trusted night in and night out. Who is going to be Jimmy’s sidekick, his number two?

The Heat will miss Hassan Whiteside in the paint but not his pouting. Their interior defense will take a step back. Bam is developing but not consistent enough yet. He needs to take a huge leap. Nevertheless, Erik Spoelstra’s life just got easier. He knows who to give the ball to in the 4th but Butler challenges everyone.  He is likely, if he remains healthy, to drop 25 ppg which will allow the Heat’s defense to cause havoc and in the East it is a recipe for success and more importantly the playoffs in 2020.